Politics

Economic ministers miss caucus meetings to attend Davos forum

As the Liberal caucus meets on Parliament Hill Thursday to plot strategy for the return of the House of Commons, three ministers with economic portfolios are absent, choosing to attend events at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, instead.

Bains announces $49M in funding for Mastercard's new cybersecurity centre in Vancouver

Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in 2018. The two ministers are now attending this year's forum. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

As the Liberal caucus meets on Parliament Hill Thursday to plot strategy for the return of the House of Commons, three ministers with economic portfolios are attending events at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, instead.

Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains paired up with Ajay Banga, the CEO of Mastercard, Thursday morning to announce a new centre focused on global intelligence and cybersecurity in Vancouver.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade Minister Mary Ng are also attending events in Davos through Friday.

Bains' office said the government's collaboration with Mastercard started with a conversation at Davos last year. 

The federal government's Strategic Innovation Fund, which to date has contributed over $2 billion to companies that line up with government objectives, is contributing $49 million to the Mastercard facility. The new project is expected to support 380 full-time and 100 co-op student jobs and "raise Canada's stature as a leader in cybersecurity," a news release from Bains' department said.

The new centre is a ten-year investment that will focus on creating technologies and standards to reduce the risk that personal and financial information could be stolen, the release said. Mastercard's research will be done in collaboration with universities, businesses and the public sector.

"There's no doubt that Mastercard was open to the idea because of the fact that the government was willing to be a partner, but also because of the world-class talent that we have," Bains told reporters on a conference call from Davos. "They're aware of the fact that we have a really strong rule of law and that we're also looking forward to advancing a digital charter.

"That's the pitch that we've been making. That's why I've come here to Davos to meet with ... international companies, to look for global investments that will create more jobs and more opportunities for Canadians."

Finance minister on Davos panel

On Thursday morning, Morneau joined finance ministers from France and Turkey and academics from the London School of Economics and Harvard's Kennedy School for a panel discussion called "Shaping the Global Growth Agenda."

Morneau told the forum that Canada's ability to manage its debt levels has given the federal government room to invest in public infrastructure and individuals, through things like child benefit payments.

"Our fiscal track is a responsible one, leaving us with significant firepower if those geopolitical risks, these trade tensions that we see, cause problems that might not be evident today but could be evident tomorrow," he said. "We are in a good position to be resilient in Canada."

Morneau said forums like the G20 have a role to play in ensuring that there's fairness in societies. He cited the digital tax his French counterpart on the panel has been trying to implement — in the face of American resistance — to ensure that multinational tech companies that profit from their activities in France are also taxed in France.

The Liberal election platform proposed a similar tax.

"If our people don't feel like there's a fairness to the system, then they don't want to be actively engaged in [economic] growth," Morneau said.

Over 50 heads of state — including U.S. President Donald Trump, who gave a keynote speech Tuesday — business leaders, celebrities, and activists like Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg are part of this year's forum in the Swiss resort town, which is inaccessible to the public during the event without an invitation from the WEF.

Quebec Premier François Legault is among those in Davos taking meetings this week. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last attended in 2018.

Prince Charles met with climate activist Greta Thunberg after delivering a speech at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday. (Clarence House/Associated Press)

The theme of this year's forum is "Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World." Organizers are working toward an updated "Davos Manifesto 2020", which is meant to serve as a scorecard for governments and corporations to measure their progress balancing "inclusive economic growth" and environmental protection. 

One of the issues confronting leaders at this year's gathering was the effective collapse of the World Trade Organization's appellate body last month, thanks to the U.S.'s ongoing refusal to agree to the appointment of any more adjudicators to replace those whose terms have now expired and can no longer hear appeals in international trade disputes. 

While other work to mediate disagreements and disputes between countries continues at the WTO, it's now without its final arbitration body, leaving many of the most contentious cases in limbo, including Canada's ongoing dispute with the U.S. over softwood lumber duties.

U.S. 'going to do something' on WTO: Trump

Appearing with the WTO's Director General Roberta Azevedo Wednesday, Trump said talks would be held in Washington "sometime maybe next week or the week after" on how to address American concerns that the multilateral trading system isn't working properly, particularly when it comes to China's membership in the organization — concerns which in some cases began even before the Trump administration took office.

Trump told a news conference that "we're going to do something that I think will be very dramatic," without making clear what he had in mind. The head of the WTO does not typically negotiate bilaterally with specific members, as it's designed for consensus decision making between members, not top-down direction.

At the Word Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, U.S. President Donald Trump downplayed the future risks associated with climate change. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Even if the U.S. were to suddenly agree to start appointing members again, the appellate body is now without a budget and it could take a long time to re-establish. It would need a half-dozen adjudicators to return to full bench strength, as only one member's term has not expired. (Cases cannot be heard without at least three adjudicators, hence the system's breakdown.) 

Ng's itinerary in Davos is focused on WTO reform, including talks with her ministerial counterparts as other countries figure out how to respond and adapt to the U.S.–China trade war.

She's hosting a working dinner for the Ottawa Group, a collection of ministers from a dozen other WTO members representing diverse geographic regions, trade blocs and levels of economic development that first convened in Ottawa in 2018 under her predecessor, Jim Carr.

Canada and the European Union have established an alternative way of arbitrating trade disputes between them on an interim basis while the appellate body is paralyzed, something Ng said is important for Canadian businesses engaged in international trade.

"I really think that the EU–Canada agreement serves as a model that other countries might be interested in looking at so I will be I will be doing that work while I'm here at Davos," she told CBC News on her way to the forum Wednesday, without being specific about which countries might be interested in signing on.

Ng's Davos itinerary also includes a meeting of the Cairns Group — WTO members who are major agricultural exporters and find common cause in breaking down barriers to trade in agricultural products.

Canada is hosting a reception in Davos Thursday evening to showcase companies that want to expand in global markets.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.